The Quinquennium

 

  

 

The second novella in the Quinquennium series, As It Was In The Beginning, is taking shape. It takes place three years before the events in book one, To Thee Is This World Given, over the week leading up to the “end.”

While To Thee Is This World Given was intended originally to be a stand alone novella, everyone who read it asked the same questions, “What happens next? Are you writing more?” My answer was always “They continue on” and “no.”

It took me awhile to put enough distance between myself and the effort it took to write To Thee Is This world Given, but I eventually got to the place where I agreed that each of the four characters in it deserved their own story and the world in which takes place deserved to be expanded, and so the Quinquennium was born.

The titles for books three through five are still to be decided but the stories themselves have already been plotted. Book three takes place one year after As it Was In The Beginning, and follows the male character from To Thee Is This World Given. Book four takes place one year before To Thee Is This World Given. It follows the young Amish man. And book five takes place fifty years later and follows the young girl, who is now approaching sixty years old.

The timeline: day one, As It Was In The Beginning; one year later, Book 3; two years later Book 4; three years later, To Thee is This World Given; fifty years later, Book 5.

Simple, vibrant, eye catching single-color covers that reflect the mood and theme of each book were chosen to create a unified look for the series. Double click on any of the covers to see it in greater detail. Each has an identical star field pattern and a white border.

 

Advertisements

“The First Draft of Anything is Shit”

firstdraft

I get ideas for stories all of a sudden out of nowhere and can see the scenes clearly in my mind’s eye before I ever attempt to write them (even months beforehand).

The idea for the To Thee is This World Given  came to me in March 2014. The next day at work I jotted down a brief outline on a yellow legal pad that would remain the same until the story was finished:

Two characters, a man and woman, meet on a road several years into a zombie apocalypse. They leave the road and go into the woods. They camp at the side of a stream where the woman tends the man’s wounds. They talk late into the night. The next morning they hike back to the road where they meet a third character, before parting for good.

The only  significant changes to my original concept were to make their relationship antagonistic (originally they had been much more chummy), to make their relationship with the third character friendly (originally it had been hostile), and to have the female character walk away from the male character (originally he had walked away from her).

While my stories may come quickly, the actual writing for me is not spontaneous. It’s the result of intense planning, outlining, reworking, refining, and even acting out. I frequently make the faces and perform the actions the characters are doing to figure out how to describe them and to make sure they actually work in real life. I also recite dialog out loud as I write to make sure it sounds like normal speech. All of this makes it a little embarrassing for me to write where other people can see and hear me.

It ended up taking me four and a half months to complete the novella’s 20,000 word first draft, and I ended up throwing out 99% of the text away in the second draft.

I started the actual writing the middle of April 2014. The first two lines I wrote were the first and last lines of the book — this is pretty typical for me, except that usually I start off with just the last sentence (I often can see the end of my stories before I can see their beginnings):

The First Line of To Thee is This World Given is The dead congregate; the last line is The living collide.

The only other text that stayed unchanged through all drafts was a paragraph of dialogue in which the female character is talking about the star Betelguese, the left hand of OrionI almost named  To Thee is This World Given, “The ninth brightest star” in honor of Betelguese. This paragraph is one of the most important for understanding the story:

Her voice was wistful, almost sad. “It rushed into existence and used up all of its fuel too fast. Just the blink of an eye in the lives of most stars. And right now its winds are crashing against everything in the galaxy, even us. And eventually it will explode outward and there will be nothing left. No star. No black hole. Just empty space. As if it had never been there at all.” Her eyes closed. “It’ll have had just a short, brilliant life that extinguished so much with it when it went.”

To Thee is This World Given is written in both third person objective and in medias resI wanted readers to experience the space between themselves and the characters in the same way and at the same time the characters experience the space between themselves. Third person objective and in medias res forces them to do so.

The reader is dropped immediately into the action and is never told what the characters think or feel, or how the characters got to where the story starts. They have to make that decision for  themselves, based on what the characters do and say (and fail to do and say). The reader is never told who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, who is the hero and who is the villain, who to root for and who to root against. Just like life.

The truth is that unless we are told, we never know what is going on in someone else’s head, and even then we have to take it on faith. The best we can do is pay close attention, but even then we often still get it wrong. How we decipher someone else usually says more about us than it does them. That’s a central theme of the book.

The slowest period of the entire writing process, which ended up taking me eight months to reach the final draft, plus another three months in editing, were the first six pages. Those six pages took me almost three weeks to finish, because I kept reworking what I had written the day before instead of moving on. So I got nowhere.

I was having a very hard time getting the voice right. It was driving me crazy.

The voice in third person objective is “silent.” There is no narrator, there is no “telling” at all. Everything must be “shown” through action, dialog, and description. In all other point of views the voice is obvious and can smooth over less elegant writing in the action and dialog. In third person objective, the action and dialog have to stand on their own, relying solely on the strength of the writing in each sentence. It requires tremendous discipline; it’s like a straight jacket, except that you are always fighting slipping into telling.

Additionally, by writing in medias res the story starts with no exposition, and especially early on, is in strict active voice; you just jump right into the action. The problem I was having was in not sounding like blocking, or like something written by a five year old.

(To this day, the first half of the first chapter remains the part of the book that I am the least happy with. I never could get it completely right).

In the end, I made a rule that the only thing I could read on a given day was what I was writing that day and that I could not re-read or rewrite anything I had written earlier. I finally began making progress.

I wrote every day from noon to 4 pm, longhand on yellow legal pads, and as I went along I created detailed outlines mapping out each chapter. In the third chapter, I realized that having the characters get along didn’t work, so I changed course going forward as if they had always not gotten along and stuck post-it notes on the early pages about what changes would have to be made in the second draft.

People are often surprised at how long it took me to write the first 20,000 words. The thing about a novella is that everything included has to pull its weight. Everything is Chekov’s gun. Every word has to count. Whereas the difficulty in writing 100,000 words is in having enough to say, with 20,000 words it is not saying more than enough. This was compounded by how tightly structured To Thee is This World Given is. On most days, at least half of my time was spent organizing and mapping out what I was going to write.

I didn’t keep a copy of the first draft. Every time I finished re-writing a corresponding section in the second draft, a handful of yellow pages was tossed into the recycling bin. At the end, a mountain of scribbled-on yellow pages that no one ever saw but me.

At least once a day I said, “God, this is garbage.”

Not getting demoralized was hard.

I couldn’t see how I would ever get anywhere close to being happy with the story.

But I had a little post it stuck on my desk reminding me that the first draft of anything is always shit. I had another ordering me to not edit as I wrote.

It’s better to press forward and throw it all away, than to stand still and have nothing to throw away. Ernest Hemingway threw away the first 3,000 words of

 The Sun Also Rises and re-wrote the ending of a A Farewell to Arms forty-seven times.

-k-

You can read about the themes in To Thee is This World Given, in my post  The Hardest Thing in Writing is Simply to Tell the Truth

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

 

 

 

To Thee is This World Given turned one year old today

All week long Khel will be posting about how it came to be.

The first two posts, on being able to find the time to write  and the ideas behind the story  are already up. And over the next couple of days, the story of writing the first draft will be posted as well.

Also, from now until June 22nd, we are running a giveaway on Goodreads for five signed and numbered hardback editions of To Thee is This World Given.

There are no strings attached and you can enter for free at the link below. You can also read impressions and reactions to the novella from Goodreads’ reviewers by clicking the title link in the box below.

We are extremely proud of the fact that the number one response has been about the high quality of Khel’s prose (even by those who found fault with other elements).

Happy birthday little book. Here’s to many more.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

To Thee Is This World Given

by Khel Milam

Giveaway ends June 22, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

“The Hardest Thing in Writing is Simply to Tell the Truth”

The unifying theme behind To Thee is This World Given is that we are not an inherently selfish, callus, violent species. While I don’t believe we are inherently good, I do believe we inherently desire to be so, which is diametrically opposed to our supposedly sociopathic nature depicted by The Walking Dead and other books, movies, and television shows in the post-apocalyptic genre.

For the most part I believe we are basically a pretty decent species. After all, there is no other species on the planet willing to adopt the offspring of another, rear it as a family member, and do everything in its power to keep it safe and sound (especially the offspring of a species that used to eat them). That’s pretty exceptional when you think about it.

What I don’t believe is that we have to love each other. That’s unrealistic, even as goal. I don’t even believe we have to like each other, we just have to try tolerate each other, not harm each other, help each other if we can, and at the very least acknowledge that we’re all just struggling to stay afloat in our own way.

I tried to suggest this in To Thee is This World Given from the very beginning with a pair of quotes from Siddhartha and Charles Dickens:

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world where each person is clinging to his or her piece of debris? What is the proper salutation between them as they pass each other in this flood?” Siddhartha

“It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide, and if that spirit go not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness.” Charles Dickens

In To Thee is This World Given, two-thirds of the character interaction is cooperative, and the two best adjusted characters are the two most cooperative ones. Additionally, basic human decency comes up in dialog scattered throughout the story and is shown in the “hobo code” that people use mark to the roads to let others know that lies ahead and where to find things like food, water, and shelter.

While I made up my own symbols, the road markings in the book were inspired by the actual hobo code of the 1930s. The fact that the real hobo code developed is, itself, a testament to human nature.

A second theme in the story is our fallibility in interpreting and understanding other people’s motives and personalities, and the fact we often deceive ourselves about our own. This is alluded to by the title itself.

To Thee is This World Given is comes from one of the most famous quotes in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, Young Goodman Brown:

“Now faith is gone…[t]here is no good on earth; sin is but a name. Come devil, for to thee is world given.”

Young Goodman Brown centers around the title character’s shifting interpretations and opinions of his neighbors’ motives and personalities, as well as the reader’s own shifting interpretations and opinions of Goodman Brown’s motives and the reliability of his conclusions.

In the story, Goodman Brown’s neighbors are revealed to be hypocrites; however, the reader can’t be certain that the part of the story in which the reveal happens actually took place or not. It could have been a dream or a hallucination, for instance, and the only time the reader actually sees the neighbors undeniably in action, they behave the opposite of how they behaved in the dream-like reveal. So the reader must decide if the neighbors are hypocrites or if Goodman Brown is deceived. Because the story is written in third party objective and in medias res, the reader has nothing more to go on than what Goodman Brown sees, hears, and says.

But if you move beneath the superficial story, you realize there is only one character that is undeniably a hypocrite, and that is Goodman Brown. He is everything he condemns his neighbors of being, and everything he condemns them for doing, he does, himself.

The final theme in To Thee is This World Given is that we are our actions. There are no good or bad people, just good or bad actions. The difference between a hero and a villain is that the villain is honest and up front about doing bad things, while the hero creates elaborate excuses to justify doing bad things. Hero’s suffer from Goodman Brown syndrome.

This is why I did not give my characters’ name. Names are authorial and reader short cuts into character personalities — “Bubba” forms a completely different picture than “Allister,” for instance. Even common names influence one’s perceptions of a character — John tells a different story than Jack does. If a character doesn’t have a name, they can only be evaluated by their actions, which are either good, bad, or neutral, or more typically a hodge podge of all three

I also had the main characters address this theme directly when they argue about Superman and Lex Luther, and indirectly when they argue about the refusal of the leader of Britain’s south pole expedition to let his surviving men try to continue on to get help.

I think of my story as sort of a moebius circle. Every element can be traced back around itself to one of these themes, all of which are already inherently intertwined with each other to begin with. Each time you run your finger along the story’s edge you end up in deeper layer. There is the superficial story, and beneath this, a story about the fallibility of perceptions and expectations and conclusions and justifications, and then at the deepest level, there is a story about the world as it is today.

Plots to me are not the stories, to me they are just the way stories are made sensible to other people. The stories are the truths about the spaces between people, and between what we believe is the truth and what the truth really is.

 

-k-

You can read about my experiences writing the first draft, in my post The First Draft of Anything is Shit.

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the Time to Write To Thee is This World Given

Virginia Wolf once said that one needs money and a room of one’s own to be able to write. But what one really needs is time. Money and a home are just the currency needed to purchase it.

Ever since graduating college, I had been trying to find a way to both support myself and have enough spare time to write.

In the 1990s, I lived in Manhattan, attended NYU’s Publishing Program, and worked in the editorial departments of various houses, hoping that by working in publishing I’d have a better chance of my manuscript being read.

But as you probably already know, it’s challenging to be able to write while working full time, especially if you don’t write in a heavily formulaic genre and you have to share 800 square feet with five people (publishing doesn’t pay so well). So, while all that time I had an “in,” I didn’t have a finished manuscript.

After a while the realization set in that the whole point of my working in the industry was moot and I ended up in law school (all but two of my roommates from that time also went to law school, of the two others, one stuck it out in the industry and one I have know idea).

I chose law because I had the grades, did well on the sample LSAT test, and wasn’t good enough at math to go to med school. My plan was to work for a few years, scrimp, and be able to buy an inexpensive house outright, which would free me from having to work so much that it would interfere with my writing.

What I didn’t know was (1) that I’d leave law school with student loans that rivaled most people’s mortgages; (2) that I’d have to work at least eighty hours a week at a firm; and (3) that the housing market would experience the worst inflation in history. So, as you can imagine I didn’t get much writing done.

During this period, the thought that I was running out of time and not doing what I was supposed to be doing became more and more urgent, until around 2006 or 2007, when it turned into an all encompassing preoccupation that didn’t let up until I actually began writing To Thee is This World Given . I would sit at my desk every night researching cases and typing memos, thinking, “I am not supposed to be doing this,” over and over and over.

Then something happened. It would end up providing me with enough money to live off of for about a year and half without having to work.

In March 2014 I was offered a settlement from my firm, and so I had a decision to make:  refuse the money and continue working for an employer I’d grown to hate; take the money, be responsible, and find another job right away; or take the money, be irresponsible, and begin writing, knowing that the longer I remained unemployed the harder it would be for me to find another job.

I chose to write.

And I wrote every day, four to six hours a day, for nine months. As soon as I started writing, I felt for the first time in my life that finally I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. For the first time, I felt absolutely content.

It’s been two years since I began To Thee is World Given  and one year since it was released, and now I’m back to where I was before  trying to figure out how to have both enough money to live and enough time to write. But I’m no longer frightened by an insecure future, and I look at the problem now as finding enough time to work, not finding enough time to write.

You can read about my experiences writing the first draft of To Thee is This World Given, here.

 

You can read about the themes in To Thee is World Given, here

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

-k-

 

 

The Science of Writing Slowly

When I wrote To Thee is This World Given, both my first and second drafts were written longhand on yellow legal pads, and even as I typed the third draft, every iteration of each reworked sentence and paragraph was handwritten on a combination of legal pads and post-it notes. The revisions to the fourth through the tenth, and final, draft were also longhand changes scribbled between the lines of the printed manuscripts.

I always assumed that my preference for longhand was just an old-school crutch, because my writing always seems to have a clarity that my typing does not.

But it turns out that writing slowly actually does improve the quality of one’s writing. The results of a study in the British Journal of Psychology, released in January, showed that participants who were forced to slow down their writing by typing with only one hand wrote with greater sophistication than those who were allowed to type quickly with both hands.

Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process….It seems that what we write is a product of the interactions between our thoughts and the tools we use to express them.

[S]lowing down participants’ typing by asking them to use only one hand, allowed more time for internal word search, resulting in a larger variety of words. Fast typists may have simply written the first word that came to mind.

Another study released in 2011 found that writing by hand strengthens the learning process, while typing impairs it. 

The process of reading and writing involves a number of senses….When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback are significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.

Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us. We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects — be it a book, a keyboard or a pen — to perform certain tasks.

For myself, I’m able to see inconsistencies and weaknesses in my writing more vividly when I write by hand, and they bother me more intensely, to the point I that can’t ignore them, then when I type.

One thing I’ve noticed in works by the indie authors that I have read, both fiction and non-fiction, is a hastiness. Even when the writing and editing are sound there is a hasty, rushed quality to it as if the author is not fully aware of what he or she has written.

It may be that the real difference between great authors and ordinary writers is not just innate talent, but the speed and haste with which they write.

Consider this quote from Hemingway:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review, Interview, 1956

Or this one from Faulkner:

Faulkner: Since none of my work has met my own standards, I must judge it on the basis of that one which caused me the most grief and anguish.

Interviewer: What work is that?

Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. I wrote it five separate times, trying to tell the story, to rid myself of the dream which would continue to anguish me until I did.

William FaulknerThe Paris Review, Interview, 1956

Or this one from Renard:

Style means the right word. The rest matters little.

Jules Renard

Or even this famous one from Twain:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Mark Twain

If you would like to improve your writing just slow down.

You might also like my posts: A Few Thoughts on Writing, The First Draft of Anything is Shit, and The Hardest Thing to Do is Simply Write the Truth.

-k-

 

 

 

Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned

We are approaching the one year anniversary of the release of Khel’s book, To Thee is This World Given, and we thought this was a good time to share a few of things we’ve learned over the last year and a half that don’t quite merit posts of their own.

1) Lightning Source/Ingram Spark has no objections to your selecting a 30% discount rate and making your books non-returnable. 

When we settled on the prices for our print formats, we were under the impression that Lightning Source/Ingram Spark required a 55% discount rate. In order to make any profit from our print editions with a 55% discount rate, we had to set the prices much higher than we wanted to. When we learned that we could have set the discount rate at 30%, it was already too late — the prices had been locked into their ISBNs and printed on their covers. The only way we can change their prices is with a second edition, which we hope to be able to release in the not too distant future. So, before you choose the price of your books make absolutely sure you know what discount rates are available from your printer/distributor, and chose the lowest.

2) Make sure your cover designer gives you the JPEGS (without crop marks) of the front cover, back cover, spine, and flaps (if a hardback) to submit to Amazon for the look inside feature for your print editions. 

You’ll need separate files for both your paperback and your hardback. If you can, get your interior designer to give you the complete PDF file with both the front and back covers included (that’s Amazon’s preferred way to receive the file). If you can’t, you can combine the JPEGS and the PDF text yourself with a PDF merger program. And if you don’t have the JPEGS, you can always scan your cover and merge it with your PDF file as a last resort (but keep in mind that the thicker your book, the worse it will look if you do this).

Also make sure your interior designer gives you a PDF of the front matter, first chapter, and back matter so that you have a professional sample chapter on hand. If you can have the front and back covers included as well, that is even better. So, before you choose a cover designer and an interior designer, make sure they will provide these files for you as part of your package. And if they won’t, find ones that will.

3) You will need your cover designer to create separate covers for your paperback and hardback, even if they have the same trim size.

Fiction hardbacks usually have book jackets, not printed case laminate covers. The information that appears on the back of a paperback, appears on the inside flaps of the hardback’s book jacket. The back of the jacket is usually text-free (even the bar code goes inside the back flap). If you order all of your covers at the same time, the additional formats should be less expensive than the first (at least they were for us), but hammer this all out before you place your order.

4) Unless your paperback and hardback formats are the exact same trim size, you will need your interior designer to create distinct interiors for each.

There is no fudging with the interior designs and you won’t save money on them by trying to push the two trim sizes as close to each other as possible in order to get away with using only one interior for both. Trim size should be a function of the number of pages and the thickness of the book — the fewer the pages, the smaller the trim size. Because hardbacks are inherently thicker than paperbacks, they usually have larger trims, you may not even be able to get a hardback as small as your paperback. So, budget for two interiors and pick the trim size best suited for each format.

The interiors for the second format should be less expensive than the first when you order them together (they were for us), but again, hammer this all out before you place your order.

5) Wait until your interiors are finished before you have your cover designer create the final cover files.

You have to know the exact spine dimensions before your covers can be created and sent to your printer. You can only know this when you have the final page count that includes all of the pages — the front matter and back matter, as well as text. If you don’t wait until you know for certain you may have to pay your cover designer for corrections. So, plan ahead to give yourself time for the interiors to be completed first.

6) It’s a hassle trying to get an eBook  formatter to comply with your design preferences and non-scaleable style-sheets for your print interiors.  

Interior design is not the same thing as eBook formatting. Because eBooks are scaleable, eBook formatting is more utilitarian and generic than the interiors of print books, and the relationship between the reader and the text is less personal. One example: hyphenation in an eBook is a function of whatever size font the reader chooses. In a print book, the hyphenation is fixed. Having one line end with “ev-” and the next start with “rybody” is awkward, even though not technically incorrect. Make sure you create a style sheet for your editors, formatters, and designers and make sure that they are willing to comply with it before you hire them. If they aren’t, you might be better off using someone else. So, just go with a true interior designer for your print editions, if you can afford it.

7) You do not need to purchase bar codes from Bowker.

Bar codes are provided free of charge by your printer/distributor when they set up your print covers. Bowker will charge you $25 per bar code– save your money! (You will need to purchase your ISBNs from them though; a bar code cannot be generated without one). Don’t forget that every print edition — hardback, paperback, 2nd edition, etc. — needs its own unique ISBN, and that eBooks do not have bar codes.

8) Your book is not automatically added to Bowker’s Books-In-Print database.

After you purchase and assign your ISBNs with Bowker, you will still need to add them to Books-In-Print yourself. Being listed in Books-In-Print isn’t necessary, but it does improve your visibility, open new avenues for sales, and enhance your legitimacy.

9) When offering free books in exchange for reviews, use Goodreads, not Story Cartel.

Story Cartel is a for fee service ($25) where you provide free copies of your eBook for a limited time to Story Cartel members in exchange for their honest reviews, except that Story Cartel does not require its members to follow through. We had ten downloads and received one review (we found out later our results were on par with what Story Cartel itself anticipates: ten downloads typically generate zero to one reviews). Goodreads, on the other hand, is free and out of twelve downloads, we received six reviews.

10) To get feedback from those who take review copies but do not post reviews, you can send a free Survey Monkey survey to them.

We emailed a survey to the fifteen people who did not post reviews of To Thee is This World Given to learn if they had read the book and to hear their thoughts about it if they had. Nine responded: Seven of the nine had read it. Three rated both the writing and plot as excellent. Three rated both the writing and the plot as good, and one rated the book as terrible (oh well, you win some, you lose some).

11) When providing free eBooks for reviews, use Amazon to gift them to the reviewer instead of emailing them a copy or providing them with a link to the text.

When you gift copies, each copy counts as a purchase, which helps your sales ranking, which offsets those copies that are taken but never reviewed. For more details, see our longer post on how to make Amazon work for you.

12) Goodreads giveaways are a better investment than Goodreads ads. 

Giveaways generate verifiable exposure. We had three giveaways between September and December of last year: over 900 entered the first giveaway, over 700 the second, over 600 the third, and over 100 entrants friended Khel. The cost of each giveaway is only the price of the book plus shipping, a total of $45 for the three month period. 

Unlike an ad, with a giveaway you know for certain how many people, who were at least somewhat interested, saw your book. Also, when someone enters a giveaway, your book is added to their “to read” list, which provides ongoing free advertising until they choose to remove it. The giveaways also provide a way to establish relationships with Goodreads members who have shown an interest in your book.

Goodreads ads, on the other hand, require a non-refundable upfront deposit. For each click the ad receives, part of the deposit is subtracted from the total until the entire amount is exhausted. Unless an ad is clicked, there is no way to determine if it has actually been seen. The ads are small and grey, and over the three months that we ran our ad it received no clicks, even though the number of times it had appeared on a Goodreads members’ home pages was over 9,000, and despite the fact that we were continually tweaking its text. If your ad is not clicked, your deposit just sits there, unable to be refunded and applied to anything else.

13) Goodreads is a forum first and foremost, and it behaves like one.

This probably seems obvious, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are planning to use it as a central part of your marketing plan. Forums are insular and difficult for new users to break into and users often need to have a certain personality defined by the existing members in order to fit in. We use Khel’s Goodreads page primarily as a point of contact.

14) A cover has to be shockingly bright to stand out online.

The particular color and the image are probably not as important as having a super bright thumbnail that pops out at the viewer, because:

Thumbnails are puny,

The internet is crowded,

And you have about a half of a second before someone moves on.

So, you need something that they can’t not look at.

Better bright pink, than not even noticed.

Update, Jan 2018: You can see our redesigned covers for To Thee is This World Given and its companions in the Quinquennium series here.

15) Front matter, including any opening quotes, are overlooked in eBooks because the books automatically open to the first page of the first chapter.

Khel’s book To Thee is This World Given opens with quotes that precede chapter one:

“It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men and travel far and wide, and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness” (Charles Dickens)

and

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world where each person is clinging to his or her piece of debris? What is the proper salutation between them as they pass each other in this flood?” (Siddhartha).

We noticed that those who read the story in print had a different reaction to it, a reaction more in line with what Khel was hoping to achieve, than did those who read it as an eBook.

To be honest, we’re pretty stumped by this. It could just be selection bias, but we did notice that the opening quotes in the eBook version cannot be seen unless the reader deliberately chooses to view the front matter. We can’t be sure this accounts for the difference in responses between our print and our eBook readers, but it might, since even the font in which a book is printed impacts a reader’s reaction to it.

At first, we thought the fact that the quotes in the eBook were being jumped over was due to a mistake by our eBook formatter, 52 Novels, but it turns out that all modern eBooks jump over the front matter (Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead opens with a poem — but you’d never know it in the eBook unless you looked for it. In Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands, this flaw was overcome in the eBook by putting the opening quote on a stand alone “part one” page).

We aren’t sure how to overcome this problem in eBooks that do not have multiple “parts.” Putting the quotes on the top of the first page under “chapter one” would prevent them from being missed, but then the reader might think they only relate to chapter one. If we discover a better solution, we’ll let you know (likewise, if you know how to fix it, we’d love to hear from you).

16) Make sure to plan your contest entries, crowdfunding projects (such as Kickstarter), and the like, so that notifications and results do not overlap.

A person can only take so much bad news at one time, so it’s best to prepare for the worst and stagger the receipt of any potential bad news, just in case.

17) Stick to your original goals. 

Keep to your original marketing plan, activities, and goals. It’s easy to get sidetracked and start hopping from thing-to-thing willy nilly, but all you wind up doing is diluting your efforts and distracting yourself. If new goals and marketing ideas occur to you as you go, write them down and work them into your next marketing cycle’s plan.

18) And last but not least, listen to your heart.

There is a ton of advice telling you to do this and not that, but in the end you have to do what feels right for you and your book. If you are uncomfortable doing something, you aren’t going to do it successfully anyway, so it’s best to do something else.